Saturday, September 28, 2013

Northern Mannerist Prints from the Kainen Collection

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Ground Floor

When: through January 5, 2014

The Kainens, a married couple, were great benefactors of the National Gallery, and this is the first of three shows highlighting works they have given.  And there's a lot to choose from in setting up these shows: beginning in 1975, they gave 1289 works to the National Gallery, then in 2012, Mrs. Kainen bequeathed another 781 works.  Thank you very much, Mr. and Mrs. Kainen, for sharing your collection with those of us able to the visit the gallery.

Mannerism flourished in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, in both Haarlem and Prague.  It was an artistic movement characterized by sophisticated, often obscure, subjects, elaborate compositions and an elegance that bordered on the distorted.  These are highly cerebral works, designed for those with a classical education, who could understand and appreciate them.

Hendrick Goltzius, from Haarlem,  specialized in mythological and allegorical subjects.  His deeply cut, individual lines, which vary in width, convey the appearance of volume, texture and tone.  The skill necessary to achieve such effects was as enticing to buyers as the subject matter of the prints.  The exactitude in these works made me think of them as a sort of anti-Impressionist movement.  One sees them as satisfying to create, but perhaps not much fun to draw?  There's no sense that the artists let himself go, so to speak, in creating these works.

The works of Bartholomaeus Spranger, from Prague, feature prurient but elegantly styled erotica, most notably the transgressions of the gods.  His works came from deep sustained curving lines that give an impression of a 3D surface.  To illustrate the difference between the two men, consider that both of them created a picture of Mars and Venus together.  Goltzius' work shows them being found out by Venus' husband, Vulcan.  Thus, adultery is punished.  In Spranger's work, the couple are shown together before their discovery, a far different picture.

Verdict: A small show, easily managed in a lunch hour.  Very interesting, if you like Mannerism or are curious to learn more about it.

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